Students Share What’s Important to Them in a New School

Focus Groups IMG_2752

Dawn Finley of Rice University listens to students talk about their ideal schools during a focus group.

More than 30 HISD students got the chance to brainstorm Thursday on their ideal school design as part of the district’s ongoing planning efforts for the 2012 bond program, which will build or renovate 40 schools across the city.

“How do you see technology being integrated into the classrooms?” asked University of Houston Professor Liz Cordill, who facilitated one of the student focus groups. Cordill teaches at the UH School of Architecture and was one of four architecture professors from UH and Rice participating in the 90-minute event.

“Every teacher has a laptop cart and everybody gets to use them,” said Selena Flores of Worthing High School. Other students, including Osvaldo Marquez of North Houston Early College, and James Cunningham of Jones High School, talked about the importance of having SMART board technology, which they said is helpful to both students and teachers.

In another group, students working with Rafael Longoria, an Architecture professor at the University of Houston, emphasized the importance of having courtyards and outdoor spaces that can be used for a variety of purposes.

“They want lots of natural light and operable windows,” Longoria said. He said his students also talked about rethinking the cafeteria spaces, where they’d like to see warming stations (microwave ovens) for food brought from home.

HISD planners intend to use the feedback from students as they move forward with the design of the high schools.  “We want to incorporate their ideas into our district guidelines,” said Sue Robertson, general manager for Facilities Planning.

In the student group led by Andrea Manning, a lecturer at Rice University School of Architecture, the teens talked about wanting modern classrooms, with better wiring and temperature control.

HISD is still reviewing qualifications from 86 architecture and engineering firms vying for work under the $1.89 billion bond program.

See more images from this event here

Andie Trochesset of Lamar High School hopes the architects will figure out a way to get rid of the basement and expand the field space at her school. She said she doesn’t mind having a multi-level building, if it could maximize land for athletics: “It means more stairs for us,” she said.

Students from all the groups touched on similar ideas, including schools with bigger hallways and classrooms, more space for extracurricular activities and fine arts classes, more room for athletics and physical education, and buildings that feel secure and joyful.

“People want a bigger atmosphere to learn and socialize … not limited to space that makes you feel crowded and depressed,” said Hugo Rojas from Davis High School. “We need the whole environment to be presentable for us to be pumped to go to school.”

Dawn Finley, an associate professor of Architecture at Rice University, heard from students who wanted spaces that will ease the transition to college, with flexible learning and common areas.

Longoria said his students were also emphatic about what needs to happen after the new schools are built. “The biggest message is maintenance and upkeep,” he said.

Roberston said she was pleased with the turnout and the ideas.

“The 2012 Bond program will create 21st Century Schools.  One of the best ways to accomplish that is to listen to our very articulate 21st Century Learners,” she said.  “As I listened to them, I was tremendously impressed with their ability to immediately identify the essence of the critical factors that need to be included in the planning and design of our schools.”